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Agro-forestry at the United Nations university and its evolving role: introductory remarks

Gerardo Budowsky

The agro-forestry project at the UN University began in 1977. Its aim was to build up a network for the promotion of research and training in selected aspects of agroforestry, by supporting centres of excellence, and facilitating the exchange of scholars between developing countries ("South-South"). It was requested that the project should relate to other UN University activities, notably the projects on highland-lowland interactive systems and rural energy systems, and to certain aspects of the "World Hunger" and "Human and Social Development" projects of the UN University.

CATIE, at Turrialba, Costa Rica, became an associated institution of the UN University on the basis of its ongoing programme of agro-forestry research and graduate training, supported by the Direction de la Cooperation et du Développement et de l'Aide Humanitaire (DDA), Switzerland, and later also by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Agency for International Development (AID) of the United States. The programme sponsored at the UN University Headquarters at Tokyo and the International Co-ordinator at CATIE, has engaged in the following activities since 1977:

1. Retrieving and Quantifying Existing Knowledge

A series of systematic workshops on the state of knowledge of agro-forestry was organized at CATIE, Costa Rica (1979, proceedings published in Spanish and English), Chiang Mai, Thailand (also in 1979; Chiang Mai University became the second UN University associated institution), and at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1981 (proceedings in press). All these meetings followed a somewhat similar pattern; co-sponsorship was obtained from the local institutions, as well as in various degrees from different international or regional organizations such as the International Centre for Research in Agro-Forestry (ICRAF), FAO, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, among many others.

Specialists from the countries of the region provided papers which were discussed. enabling conclusions to be drawn. The emphasis was mainly on the humid tropics, as this ecological region has been neglected hitherto.

2. Broadening the Conceptual Framework and Promoting Field Research

It was felt that agro-forestry in many parts of the world had become an act of faith, meaning different things to different people. So the programme contributed to the establishment of the boundaries defining what agroforestry is, and what it is not; where it can be applied, and where not. But of particular importance was the quantification of both existing traditional practices and newly designed systems. This led to a series of publications dealing with an area (La Suiza, close to Turrialba) where traditional agro-forestry systems linked to coffee and pasture were widely practiced.

3. Building up Centres of Excellence as Part of an Effective Network

Besides CATIE and Chiang Mai University, steps have been taken to strengthen other existing centres in West Africa and South-East Asia, according to their special capabilities and potential for radiating knowledge over a wider area.

4. Promoting Interchange of UN University Scholars

At present the flow has been towards CATIE, to which a total of thirteen scholars (six from Thailand, two from Indonesia, two from Tanzania, one from Venezuela, one from Peru and one from Nigeria) have been sent. In the future it is planned that the flow will also move in other directions.

5. Establishing Links with Other Relevant Organizations

Most outstanding have been various co-operative ventures with ICRAF, FAO, the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), AID, DDA (Switzerland), GTZ and Deutsche Stiftung für Internationale Entwicklung (DSE), Federal Republic of Germany, and IDRC (Canada). ICRAF, with its various technical meetings, has played a particularly valuable role, as has the FAO in its activities and publications on social forestry (the important role of forests for local communities).

Socio-economic Constraints in Agro-forostry

While some of the socio-economic aspects of agroforestry were mentioned at the three workshops organized by the UN University. the information retrieved and the research carried out tended to concentrate largely on the biological aspects. The same is true of the ICRAF meetings. Yet there is much to learn in the socioeconomic field from existing agro-forestry systems, such as, for example, the use of shade trees for cocoa, coffee, and in pastures in Latin America; the use of live fenceposts; Indonesian experience on home gardens; and African experience in taungya. Even the scanty research which has been undertaken on socio-economic aspects has placed most emphasis on strict cost-benefit relationships, and has neglected social and legal aspects, and the importance of improving social welfare. Obviously, the study of the socioeconomic factors in agro-forestry is still in its infancy. It may well be a more complicated aspect for study than other factors, but this is no excuse for not facing the necessity for such studies. More important than anything else, perhaps, is that the local people's perception of economic and social factors needs to be carefully studied and understood and, it is hoped, quantified and incorporated into action plans.

That is why the Freiburg Workshop was organized. The usefulness of the exercise will certainly be far more than academic. It is not that we can pretend to solve most problems. But agro-forestry, as seen - or rather "rediscovered" - by scientists, is here to stay. It has become an essential part of foreign-aid programmes, both multilateral and bilateral, and at present an increasing number of publications are being produced. Let us hope that the deliberations at the workshop will provide useful guidelines for the orientation of such cooperation, as well as promoting research, education, and training in the socioeconomic field. Most of all, it is important that the subject of socio-economic restraints should be approached on the basis of sympathy towards rural farmers, and the way they perceive and practice agro-forestry, so that wherever possible methods can be improved, and the age-tested knowledge of the farmers can be adapted for use in other parts of the world.

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